Despite the enthusiasm that accompanied his announcement Monday, President Clinton's decision to shake up his White House staff is little more than an acknowledgement that his administration is failing.
Domestically, the president seems unable to forge any kind of consensus on health or welfare reforms, and his highly touted crime bill - the one that was supposed to place 100,000 more police officers on the streets - is hopelessly stalled because of a silly fight over whether to include a type of racial quota system for handing out death penalties.His staff has suffered from immaturity and arrogance, as demonstrated by the recent use of a White House helicopter for a golf excursion and by the theft of towels from an aircraft carrier.
Clinton's foreign policy suffers from a lack of clear objectives and focus. Foreign markets are losing faith in the dollar as it sinks to record lows against other currencies.
His confusing stance toward problems in Haiti has led to an increase in the number of boat people seeking U.S. shores. He has let ex-president Jimmy Carter commandeer his authority in a standoff with North Korea, and he still faces vexing problems in many other foreign hot spots, not the least of which are Rwanda and Bosnia.
A weekend poll for the Washington Post and ABC News showed 55 percent of Americans now think the president is a weak and indecisive leader.
So it was natural that Clinton should feel changes were in order. On Monday, he promoted Budget Director Leon Panetta to chief of staff, replacing Mack McLarty, who has been a friend of the president's since the day they both enrolled in Miss Mary's Kindergarten in Hope, Ark.
He also moved David Gergen - the Republican spin-doctor who was supposed to transform the president's image - from the White House to the State Department. There he will attempt to change the president's foreign-policy image.
The change in the chief of staff position is bound to help the administration. It removes one more of the president's Arkansas cronies from a position of power. Panetta's reputation is that of a no-nonsense manager. He isn't likely to tolerate petty indiscretions or unethical behavior by staff members. He also has been a driving force for deficit reduction and championed passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But neither he nor Gergen can change the fortunes of the administration. Weaknesses in staff discipline and public relations, while contributing factors in the president's declining popularity, are not its root causes.
For real solutions, the president must look inward. Only through decisive leadership and sound policies can he ever hope to succeed. No matter how many talented people he hires to make bad policies look good, they still will be bad policies.
Ultimately, American voters will decide whether to make an even bigger White House shake-up in 1996.